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Top EPA official visits Hawaiʻi to oversee Navy flushing process and ensure accurate water sampling

Navy Supply Systems Command Personnel Prepare Granulated Activated Carbon Filter Systems red hill water flushing 121821
Petty Officer 1st Class Luke J M/Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet
HONOLULU (Dec. 18, 2021) – Navy personnel prepare Granulated Activated Carbon (GAC) filter systems for Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam water recovery efforts. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Luke McCall)

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's number two official arrived in Honolulu from Washington this week to see firsthand the cleanup of the fuel-tainted water at Red Hill.

EPA Deputy Administrator Janet McCabe toured the facility Monday. She said the flushing program, plus rigorous sampling, is the right approach to make sure that the water supply is clear.

"One of the issues is that a lot of samples are being taken, which is a good thing — because we want to make sure that it's a robust sampling protocol," McCabe said. "EPA was able to bring one of its mobile labs to the West Coast to help with sample analysis."

She said the EPA is working with the involved organizations to make sure the process is completed properly.

"We're doing the steps that need to be done in order to make sure that everybody can feel confident in the data," she told Hawaiʻi Public Radio.

McCabe said she was involved in nearly daily briefings on the Red Hill emergency response over the last few months.

"I really felt like I needed to come to Hawaiʻi because of my involvement in the Red Hill incident. And it was just important for EPA to have that level of visit here, and to make sure that I got to meet some of the people at the state and local level and on the military side in person — to see these things for myself," McCabe said.

She was also on hand Tuesday at a Superfund site in Kunia, Oʻahu. The community living at the plantation village has a new drinking water system thanks to a $1.6 million revolving fund.

The Kunia site was contaminated with pesticides used on pineapples decades ago when Del Monte Corp. operated in the area. The chemicals began turning up in the Kunia wells in the '80s.

Back then, the Honolulu Board of Water Supply installed the first granulated carbon filters in the pump stations to try and help clear the water of the contaminants. Fast forward almost four decades later, filters are in place to help flush the Red Hill shaft of petroleum products in the military’s tap water.

"Whether it's a little community of less than 100 homes — that's home to the families who live there — or it's the city of Honolulu, quite a bit bigger than 82 homes, the thing that ties them together is clean water," McCabe said.

McCabe departed Honolulu on Tuesday night, headed back to Washington.

This interview aired on The Conversation on Feb. 2, 2022. The Conversation airs weekdays at 11 a.m. on HPR-1.

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